Written by

Susan L. Douglass, Principal Researcher and Editor


Aiyub Palmer, Researcher


Council on Islamic Education

Shabbir Mansuri, Founding Director


Note to Teachers

Teaching about religion is well established in both national and state social studies standards for history and social science. Study of religion is part of every standard elementary and secondary world history textbook. Teaching about world religions includes the five major faiths--Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism--in terms of their origins, beliefs, customs and history. In this connection, teaching about Islam forms a part of world history and geography curricula and standards in nearly every state.

The biography of Prophet Muhammad is the cornerstone of study about Islam in world history and world cultures textbooks. It describes the origins of Islam, illustrates its basic beliefs and practices, and provides background for discussion of Muslim history and civilization. Muhammad’s biography is often used to introduce contemporary Muslim societies in world geography and world cultures textbooks.

The film Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet is a valuable tool for the social studies classroom. Through interviews with scholars, a picture of the life and times of one of the world’s most important historical figures emerges, in tandem with views of contemporary Muslims who strive to emulate his example here in the US. The lesson materials assembled by the Council on Islamic Education are based on over a decade of teaching about Islam in the classroom and textbooks.

This group of lessons bridges between the requirements of a film production for the general public and the needs of world history/world geography classrooms. The materials meet content standards and skills mandates cited in state and national curriculum documents. The lessons provide background on the history, economy and geography of the Arabian Peninsula. A vocabulary lesson, a basic overview of Islamic beliefs and practices, and a chronology and overview of Muhammad’s life and comprehension and analysis of the film, with note-taking grids to organize this information for discussion and assessment. Other activities use these tools to explore concepts in Islamic teachings and Muslim history described in the film. A lesson on the concept of prophethood allows comparison with other belief systems. Lessons include biographies of Muhammad’s companions, who played important roles in the emerging society of Madinah, and who worked to maintain it after his death. Several historical issues in the life of Muhammad are explored in these lessons, such as the formation of a social contract, the concept of just warfare, and treason. Documents for comparison with US history are provided as student handouts.

The last group of lessons bridge between the culture of the past and the lives of people today, and explore how the values of these individuals express their faith. The link between these two elements from the film is the concept of prophethood in Islam as a model for behavior. Striving to embody the ways of worship, personal qualities, habits, and values of Muhammad--whom Muslims believe was the Messenger of God--is an important strand of continuity in Muslim culture wherever it is found. The lessons on Muslim values bridge 1400 years of history between the seventh century historical person of Muhammad and Muslims who are living out his legacy in the twenty-first century. Further, the lessons cultivate understanding of common values, a common foundation for social and civic action. That is among the most important justifications for the academic study of human values and spirituality in the schools. Only by understanding what we, as a society, have in common does the study of difference take on real significance and value for shaping our common global future.


Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet provides a narrative of the life of Muhammad as a complex and significant historical figure. It demonstrates how contemporary American Muslims view Muhammad’s life as a model for principle and practice. Classes in world history, world cultures, world geography or comparative religion may find it most effective to view the film after the students have been introduced to the origins, basic beliefs and practices of Islam. The provided activities are designed for a wide variety of educational settings, so they are arranged in modular form, so that the set of lessons may be used in full or in any configuration of its parts. Each activity stands on its own, but they are arranged in logical sequence based on background and comprehension activities, discussion of the historical and contemporary content of the film, and exploration of Islamic values as they relate to Islam today.

A series of lesson activities are provided in this set. Pre-viewing activities introduce terminology and proper names. A handout and map give geographic and historical background on the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam first became established in the seventh century of the Common Era (C.E.). A summary of Muhammad’s life increases students’ familiarity with the main outlines of the narrative they will see in the film. Biographical information on the scholars interviewed in the film aids in a pre- or post-viewing analysis. Several note-taking grids are given to gather information for comprehension and activities.

Historical and biographical background details featured in the film highlight Muhammad’s significance for the rise of Islam, and give information about other historical persons mentioned in the film. Lessons on the principles of Islam illustrate how historical issues affected the application of those principles. A comparative activity draws a parallel between two similar historical documents: the Mayflower Compact and the Constitution of Madinah, demonstrating agreements for self-government among small immigrant communities. Concepts of warfare and peace in Islam are explored in terms of principles defined by the Qur’an and practiced through Muhammad’s example. An extension activity compares treason in Islamic and U.S. law, and also further explores scholars’ viewpoints.

Islamic values are explored in the last group of lessons, comparing their application during the time of Muhammad and in contemporary US society. The keystone is the concept of prophethood in Islam, both in terms of the many social roles Muhammad took on in his life, and in terms of his spiritual mission, and how that is perceived by scholars and American Muslims who appear in the film. Quotations from Islamic primary sources, the Qur’an and the Hadith (record of Muhammad’s words and deeds) provide document-based study. A closing activity discusses American Muslims’ responses to September 11, 2001, and explores their relationship to Islamic values as discussed in the previous lesson’s activities.

Correlation with History/Social Science Standards

Excerpted from National Standards for History

Standard 1. Chronological Thinking

  • Identify in historical narratives the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story.
  • Interpret data presented in time lines.
  • Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.

Standard 2. Historical Comprehension

  • Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage.
  • Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses.
  • Evidence historical perspectives.

Standard 3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation

  • Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions.
  • Consider multiple perspectives.
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation, including the importance of the individual, the influence of ideas, and the role of chance.
  • Hypothesize the influence of the past.

Standard 5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

  • Identify issues and problems in the past.
  • Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and contemporary factors contributing to problems and alternative courses of action.
  • Identify relevant historical antecedents.

Era 4: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300-1000 C.E.

Standard 2: Causes and consequences of the rise of Islamic civilization in the 7th-10th centuries.

2A: The student understands the emergence of Islam and how it spread in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe

    • [Grades] 5-12: Describe the life of Muhammad, the development of the early Muslim community, and the basic teachings and practices of Islam. [Assess the importance of the individual]

2B: The student understands the significance of the Abbasid Caliphate as a center of cultural innovation and hub of interregional trade in the 8th – 10th centuries:

    • [Grades] 5-12: Analyze the sources and development of Islamic law and the influence of law and religious practice on such areas as family life, moral behavior, marriage, inheritance, and slavery. [Examine the influence of ideas]

Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes

Standard 2: The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

    • 2F: The student understands worldwide cultural trends of the second half of the 20th century.[Grades] 5-12: Describe varieties of religious belief and practice in the contemporary world and analyze how the world’s religions have responded to challenges and uncertainties of the late 20th century. [Analyze the influence of ideas]

Excerpted from the California Academic Standards for History/Social Science

7.2: Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages, in terms of:

    1. the physical features and climate of the Arabian peninsula, its relationship to surrounding bodies of land and water and the relationship between nomadic and sedentary ways of life
    2. the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Muhammad, including Islamic teachings on the connection with Judaism and Christianity
    3. the significance of the Qur'an and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice and law, and their influence in Muslims’ daily life

Excerpted from the New York Social Studies Standards

Analyze important developments and turning points in world history; hypothesize what might have happened if decisions or circumstances had been different; investigate such developments and turning points as:

  • the emergence of the world’s great religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism

Interpret and analyze documents and artifacts related to significant developments and events in world history.

  • identify different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups throughout the world and analyze their varying perspectives on the same historic events and contemporary issues. Explain how these different perspectives developed.
  • study the historical writings of important figures in world history to learn about their goals, motivations, intentions, influences, and strengths and weaknesses.
  • examine documents related to significant developments in world history (e.g., excerpts from sacred texts of the world’s great religions, important political statements or decrees, literary works, and historians’ commentaries); employ the skills of historical analysis and interpretation in probing the meaning and importance of the documents by: identifying authors and sources for the historical documents, comparing and contrasting differing sets of ideals and values contained in each historical document, hypothesizing about the influence of each document on present-day activities and debates in the international arena.

Excerpted from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies

(19) Culture. The student understands the history and relevance of major religious and philosophical traditions. The student is expected to:

(A) compare the historical origins, central ideas, and the spread of major religious and philosophical traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism; and

(B) identify examples of religious influence in historic and contemporary world events.

(6.19) Culture. The student understands the relationships among religion, philosophy, and culture.

(A) explain the relationship among religious ideas, philosophical ideas, and cultures; and

(B) explain the significance of religious holidays and observances such as Christmas and Easter, Ramadan, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah in selected contemporary societies.

Excerpted from the Virginia Standards of Learning for History and Social Science - as revised, March 2001

WHI.8 The student will demonstrate knowledge of Islamic civilization from about 600 to 1000 A.D. by

a) describing the origin, beliefs, traditions, customs, and spread of Islam;

b) assessing the influence of geography on Islamic economic, social, and political development, including the impact of conquest and trade;

c) identifying historical turning points that affected the spread and influence of Islamic civilization.

WHII.14 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the influence of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism in the contemporary world by

a) describing their beliefs, sacred writings, traditions, and customs;

b) locating the geographic distribution of religions in the contemporary world.

Excerpted from Geography for Life: National Geography Standards

The geographically informed person knows and understands:

  • Places and Regions: How culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions
  • Human Systems: The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on earth’s surface; how the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth’s surface